The unit of currency in Costa Rica is the colón. In early 2001, there were approximately 320 colones
to the American dollar, but because the colón has been in a constant devaluation, you can expect this rate to change.
The colón is divided into 100 céntimos. There are currently two types of coins in circulation. The older
and larger nickel-alloy coins come in denominations of 10, 25 and 50 céntimos and 1, 2, 5, 10 and 20 colones; however, because
of their evaporating value, you will rarely see or have to handle céntimos.
In 1997, the goverment introduced new gold-hued 5, 10, 25, 50 and 100 colón coin. They are smaller and heavier than
the older coins, and they will slowly phase out the oder currency.
There are paper notes in denominations of
50, 100, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000 and 10000 colones.
You might also ecounter a special-issue 5 colón bill that is a popular gift and souvenir. It is valid currency,
although it sells for much more than its face value. You may hear people refer to a rojo or tucán,
which are slang terms for the 1000 and 5000 colón bills, respectively. One hundred colón denominations are
called tejas, so cinco tejas would be 500 colones. The 2000 and 10 000 bills are relatively new, and I've
yet to encounter a slang equivalent for them.
In recent years, forged bills have become increasingly common. When receiving change in colones, it's a good
idea to check the larger denominations bills, which should have protective bands or hidden images that appear when held
up to the light.
You can change money at all state owned banks. However, the service at these banks is slow an tedious.
Fortunately, you don't have to rely on the state banks. In late 1996, Costa Rica passed a law opening up the state's
banking system. Accordingly, private banks have been opening up around San José and in some of the larger provincial
towns and cities.
Hotels will often exchange money and cash traveler's checks as well; there usually isn't much of a line, but they may
shave a few colones off the exchange rate.
Be very careful about exchanging money on the streets; it is extremely risk. In addition to forged bills and
short counts, street money-changers frequently work in teams that can leave you holding neither colones or dollars.
While ATM's are still mostly found at bank offices and major shopping centers in and around San José, they are
beginning to pop up at major tourist destination around the country.
Think of your ATM card as a backup measure, since machines are not nearly as readily available or dependable in
Costa Rica as you maight expect, and you may encounter compatibility problems. So it's always a good idea to carry
some cash with you.
Credit Cards are invaluable when traveling, and they are becoming widely accepted in Costa Rica(primarily American
Express, Master Card and Visa). They are safe way to carry money and provide a convenient record of all your expenses.
Since credit-card purchase are dependent upon phone verifications, some hotels and restaurants in more remote
destination do not accept them. Moreover, many add on a 5% to 10% surcharge for cedit-card payments. Always check
in advance if you are heading to more remote corner of Costa Rica. Also note that many U.S bancks(including Citibank)
are beginning to charge an addittional 2% surcharge for transactions in foreign currency; ask your credit-card company
about its policy before you leave home.
With so meny more ATMs popping up in every corner of the globe, traveler's checks seem less necessary these days. But if
you prefer the security they offer and don't mind showing identification every time you want to cash one, traveler's
checks might still be for you.